The Netherlands hoped to play the final and many fancied them to do so, and even win it, but they have been too good from start until a match ago. The problem was that they had been at their peak far too early as their performance and winning huge in earlier matches proves. They played attractive football and, reached the ceiling by the quarter-final stage. Louis van Gaal is well aware of this fact and his expression of his dislike of their fixture against the hosts is proof of the fact. I personally believe Brazil are more beatable now than they were against Germany. Their dilemma around who to play and restore pride and whether to exclude the tried and tested to give new blood a chance to have a run is real. Van Gaal stares the prospects of failing to win what he feels is a dead rubber or the humiliation of the resurgent Brazil in the face.
As for Argentina, they always raised their game just enough to scrap the result. Save for their encounter with the Dutch, they did enough to get what they wanted. While it was a difficult match physically and mentally, they will be expected to hit top gear against Germany in the final. To make their case harder though, they have a day less to both recover and to prepare for that final. They endured a 120-minute long extremely competitive energy-supping match plus the emotional wrecking penalty shoot-out in tough weather conditions.
In comparison, Germany did stroll past Brazil and literally had a field day. Their recuperation and preparations will be longer and better, naturally. What makes this music to their ears is the fact that they had the same Dutch ‘early peak’ and scrapped through when Ghana let it slip. The United States stretched them to the limit and so did the Algerians. They hit the ceiling as they reached top gear to get past the Africans. It was a welcome relief that Brazil did not turn up on Tuesday. That luxury afforded by the hosts has more physical benefits than mental. After that stroll, concentration levels may drop a degree. Argentina will be sharper mentally but a notch low physically.
At this high level of the game, there are very fine margins in the football factors of performance. The obvious cases of altitude, weather, nutrition, motivation and all that jazz do count. Of course, the majority of the players who will take it to the turf on the 13th of July are Europe based. So, the altitude and weather will count for little. The managers and players know each other pretty well, but something will have to give. There can never be an doubt of proper and professional preparation in the field of play.
Football is such that the team that will walk away victorious, needs to create one opportunity and utilise it. Given this line alone, this is a huge ask and a burden whose solution eludes many. In the German Bundesliga, Under-9 to Under-17 teams are taught at least nine patterns of attack to create that one opportunity. Congruently, it means with this knowledge, one has to learn how to stop nine attacks, or know nine defending ways. There are a lot more at higher levels of the leagues, and it is a project that goes through to the national team. It has to start with recognising each and every one of them and the variants, and then deal with it effectively and ruthlessly.
As humans, it takes several attempts to be precise even on something we are expects in. The match may not provide such opulence to try and try again. This is when a team needs one moment of brilliance from its top player. It may be any player for that matter but chances can never be taken. Argentina will have to dig in deeper and pull off a stance to utilise Messi more than they did against Holland. It would have been very painful for him to have been anonymous in most of extra time and then fail to have an opportunity at the highest level, in the final. Germany on their part, are a well-orchestrated choir driven by the mentality to be exceptional in both attacking and defensive jobs. That roundedness of their structure makes it harder to single out individuals. Each has a role to play, basically, to be efficient in their area of operation. Many depend on doing simple things right all the time. It can be just once.
Defenders have to be technically disciplined and tactically sound in decision-making. This means winning all balls all the time without making any errors. The same goes for the midfield, whose other concerns includes top quality passing of the ball forward with minimum loss of time. The ball played early and fast on the ground makes it easier for the strikers to score. That is how they effectively scored seven goals out of a mere thirteen attempts at goal against Brazil. Most of the opportunities were very easy to convert. Given that supply, the strikers' clinical finishing would be top priority. Thomas Muller is known for his inferior natural technique, but what he was taught in his adolescence, he will execute with perfection and with ease.
Joachim Low and Alejandro Sabella have tasks in their hands, but one can be assured they started that many years back. It becomes a different kettle of fish when one realises they have a World Cup finals within days. Coaching is about shaping a team to create the opportunities to score and psyche the players to execute well as efficiently as possible when that moment of truth comes. The same goes, as he has to work with the same team to deal with those moments coming from the opposition in the same match. They have to manufacture a great moment in attack and then deny the star players any room for their moment of brilliance.
Both cases can be successfully achieved by the same team on Sunday, or one team gets one aspect right and the other team win the other option. The two teams can have it both ways in the same match in varying degrees and portions. Once in a while, due to bad team preparation or excellent tactical work by opposition, none of this happens. This explains the woeful Brazilian night at the hands of the Germans and the following day’s draw between the Netherlands and Argentina.
All said and done, the Germans’ excellent group work becomes harder to deal with. They had time to chillax before the big day. Argentina over-relies on Messi and as a collective, have not really wowed anybody, but they will welcome back injured Angel Di Maria, in which case they may not need a great team performance. After all, they have Javier Mascherano who officially has the most passes in the tournament so far. Unofficially, he has the most interceptions and the highest ball retrieval rate. The 2014 Fifa World Cup final is the day they may step up into the plate and be counted, the day Lionel Messi will prove he is the greatest player in the world ever. With all due pressure on him, that is the moment to deliver as developing cold feet can only prove he is a sissy, to the delight of both Pele and his country man, Diego Maradona. The two are wrestling over the title they impose on themselves and Messi is here to end that war on Sunday. Cometh the moment, cometh the Messi!!